Luxury in the Nazi Concentration Camps

Isaac Mostovicz writes that luxury is deeply linked to our own behaviour...
We are used to associating luxury with expensive cars, plush hotels and exotic resorts. However, once we understand what luxury means, we can find it anywhere, even in the Nazi concentration camps.
As a son of Holocaust survivors, I have encountered many people who survived because of the generosity of their mates who decided to share with them their own daily rations. Many of you might be familiar with the derogatory term “Muselmann”, which describes those victims in the Nazi concentration camps who had been broken psychologically and physically by starvation and life in the camps. Some gave away their meagre food portions because they lost any hope, but many did so because they hoped to survive and wanted to bring that hope to others, even temporarily by helping them with a bit of extra food. While we have to hail this behaviour as heroic, from a scientific point of view, this is a very interesting example of a form of luxury behaviour.
Yes, luxury is behaviour. Contrary to conventional wisdom, luxury is not embedded in products or services themselves; luxury instead is a type of behaviour characterised by needlessly squandering assets. This activity seems irrational as long as we do not pay attention to the deep reasons behind it.
Research shows that people use luxury for enhancing their self-esteem. Two main schools provide alternative explanations along the Theta / Lambda dichotomy. The Terror Management Theory (TMT), a Theta school, claims that luxury’s role is to confirm one’s self-worth. On the other hand, the Lambda school promotes the Self-Determination Theory (SDT) which argues that the role of luxury behaviour is to provide individuals challenges in order to grow and develop psychologically as well as to structure their life choices in alignment with their own perceived identity.
Overspending or squandering assets sends us the message that we are able, fit and worthy.  Amotz Zahavi, the Israeli biologist calls this phenomenon “the handicap principle” whereby one proves one’s abundance of assets by destroying them.
Understanding what is behind luxury behaviour, enhancing our self-esteem, demonstrates the importance of the role of luxury in our lives and saying bluntly that luxury is good for us. Nevertheless, Self-Determination Theory emphasises another key factor, that of choice.   When we spend on something because we need it, this behaviour will never be luxury. Luxury is based on a choice, when we do something even when we do not need to. Overspending is a choice that exemplifies the fact that there is a rationality behind the irrational behaviour of overspending in that it enhances self esteem. Spending needlessly enables us to express the element of choice.
When Holocaust victims were ready to share their food with their mates, they sent two messages. The first was that they did not need all of it, at least for the time being and that some of their food was excessive. Secondly, they had a choice between two, equally good options, either to eat up the food or to give it away. Either of these two aspects clearly define this behaviour as luxury.  (Alternatively they could have become apathetic or have been demonstrating true altruism, neither of which would be regarded as luxury.)
The heroic behaviour of those Holocaust victims teaches us two lessons; one educational and the other moral. The first lesson is that luxury is beneficial to us and that we should search for it everywhere. It is important because in enhances our self-esteem. Life is full of choices and by identifying them and actually choosing between them we enhance our self-esteem.  Morally, it does not matter what we spend on as long as we act correctly. We do not need a heroic gesture of sharing our last piece of the extremely needed bread to tell us how worthy we are. There are many other, much more pleasurable means of sending this message.  Luxury is a choice of our own behaviour.

2945296964_d039576065

We are used to associating luxury with expensive cars, plush hotels and exotic resorts. However, once we understand what luxury means, we can find it anywhere, even in the Nazi concentration camps.

As a son of Holocaust survivors, I have encountered many people who survived because of the generosity of their mates who decided to share with them their own daily rations. Many of you might be familiar with the derogatory term “Muselmann”, which describes those victims in the Nazi concentration camps who had been broken psychologically and physically by starvation and life in the camps.

Some gave away their meagre food portions because they lost any hope, but many did so because they hoped to survive and wanted to bring that hope to others, even temporarily by helping them with a bit of extra food. While we have to hail this behaviour as heroic, from a scientific point of view, this is a very interesting example of a form of luxury behaviour.

Yes, luxury is behaviour. Contrary to conventional wisdom, luxury is not embedded in products or services themselves; luxury instead is a type of behaviour characterised by needlessly squandering assets. This activity seems irrational as long as we do not pay attention to the deep reasons behind it.

Research shows that people use luxury for enhancing their self-esteem. Two main schools provide alternative explanations along the Theta / Lambda dichotomy. The Terror Management Theory (TMT), a Theta school, claims that luxury’s role is to confirm one’s self-worth.

On the other hand, the Lambda school promotes the Self-Determination Theory (SDT) which argues that the role of luxury behaviour is to provide individuals challenges in order to grow and develop psychologically as well as to structure their life choices in alignment with their own perceived identity.

Overspending or squandering assets sends us the message that we are able, fit and worthy.  Amotz Zahavi, the Israeli biologist calls this phenomenon “the handicap principle” whereby one proves one’s abundance of assets by destroying them.

Understanding what is behind luxury behaviour, enhancing our self-esteem, demonstrates the importance of the role of luxury in our lives and saying bluntly that luxury is good for us. Nevertheless, Self-Determination Theory emphasises another key factor, that of choice.

When we spend on something because we need it, this behaviour will never be luxury. Luxury is based on a choice, when we do something even when we do not need to. Overspending is a choice that exemplifies the fact that there is a rationality behind the irrational behaviour of overspending in that it enhances self esteem. Spending needlessly enables us to express the element of choice.

When Holocaust victims were ready to share their food with their mates, they sent two messages. The first was that they did not need all of it, at least for the time being and that some of their food was excessive. Secondly, they had a choice between two, equally good options, either to eat up the food or to give it away. Either of these two aspects clearly define this behaviour as luxury.

The heroic behaviour of those Holocaust victims teaches us two lessons; one educational and the other moral. The first lesson is that luxury is beneficial to us and that we should search for it everywhere. It is important because in enhances our self-esteem. Life is full of choices and by identifying them and actually choosing between them we enhance our self-esteem.

Morally, it does not matter what we spend on as long as we act correctly. We do not need a heroic gesture of sharing our last piece of the extremely needed bread to tell us how worthy we are. There are many other, much more pleasurable means of sending this message.  Luxury is a choice of our own behaviour.

You say of this article...

Bookmark and Share